Systematic review of the impact of heatwaves on health service demand in Australia

Mason, Hannah, King, Jemma C., Peden, Amy E., and Franklin, Richard C. (2022) Systematic review of the impact of heatwaves on health service demand in Australia. BMC Health Services Research, 22. 960.

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Objectives: Heatwaves have been linked to increased levels of health service demand in Australia. This systematic literature review aimed to explore health service demand during Australian heatwaves for hospital admissions, emergency department presentations, ambulance call-outs, and risk of mortality.

Study design: A systematic review to explore peer-reviewed heatwave literature published from 2000 to 2020.

Data sources: Articles were reviewed from six databases (MEDLINE, Scopus, Web of Science, PsychINFO, ProQuest, Science Direct). Search terms included: heatwave, extreme heat, ambulance, emergency department, and hospital. Studies were included if they explored heat for a period of two or more consecutive days. Studies were excluded if they did not define a threshold for extreme heat or if they explored data only from workers compensation claims and major events.

Data synthesis: This review was prospectively registered with PROSPERO (#CRD42 02122 7395). Forty-five papers were included in the final review following full-text screening. Following a quality assessment using the GRADE approach, data were extracted to a spreadsheet and compared. Significant increases in mortality, as well as hospital, emergency, and ambulance demand, were found across Australia during heatwave periods. Admissions for cardiovascular, renal, respiratory, mental and behavioural conditions exhibited increases during heatwaves. The most vulnerable groups during heatwaves were children (< 18 years) and the elderly (60+).

Conclusions: Heatwaves in Australia will continue to increase in duration and frequency due to the effects of climate change. Health planning is essential at the community, state, and federal levels to mitigate the impacts of heatwaves on health and health service delivery especially for vulnerable populations. However, understanding the true impact of heatwaves on health service demand is complicated by differing definitions and methodology in the literature. The Excess Heat Factor (EHF) is the preferred approach to defining heatwaves given its consideration of local climate variability and acclimatisation. Future research should explore evidence-based and spatially relevant heatwave prevention programs. An enhanced understanding of heatwave health impacts including service demand will inform the development of such programs which are necessary to promote population and health system resilience.

Item ID: 75925
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1472-6963
Keywords: Extreme heat, Climate change, Health system, Australia, Disaster health
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2022. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2022 00:54
FoR Codes: 42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4203 Health services and systems > 420311 Health systems @ 100%
SEO Codes: 19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1901 Adaptation to climate change > 190103 Social impacts of climate change and variability @ 100%
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